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Coding to Learn and Create: Building Accessibility to Support Inclusion

Explore and create

Explore and create : Creation lab

Friday, December 4, 1:30–3:00 pm PST (Pacific Standard Time)

Susie Blackstien-Adler  
Michelle D'Souza  
Leanne Husk  
Christy McDonald  

Teachers often lack resources and tools needed to substantively include students with complex needs in coding education. We will present the Coding to Learn and Create project’s goals, approach and resources created so far. Attendees will have opportunities to participate in the co-design of accessible coding resources and software.

Audience: Teachers, Principals/head teachers, Technology coordinators/facilitators
Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices useful
Attendee device specification: Smartphone: Windows, Android, iOS
Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Tablet: Android, iOS, Windows
Participant accounts, software and other materials: Wonder Workshop - Blockly
Sphero Edu
Chrome browser
Topic: Universal Design for Learning/differentiated learning
Grade level: PK-12
Subject area: Special education, STEM/STEAM
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Use technology to create, adapt and personalize learning experiences that foster independent learning and accommodate learner differences and needs.
For Students:
Computational Thinker
  • Students understand how automation works and use algorithmic thinking to develop a sequence of steps to create and test automated solutions.
For Education Leaders:
Equity and Citizenship Advocate
  • Ensure all students have access to the technology and connectivity necessary to participate in authentic and engaging learning opportunities.
Disclosure: The submitter of this session has been supported by a company whose product is being included in the session
Influencer Disclosure: This session includes a presenter that indicated a “material connection” to a brand that includes a personal, family or employment relationship, or a financial relationship. See individual speaker menu for disclosure information.

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

To build a community of people who are interested in developing and sharing accessible coding materials and experiences for students who have complex needs.

Participants will:
1. Develop knowledge about the benefits of coding to learn for students who have special needs, and how to teach more inclusively.
2. Learn about the goals and approach of the Coding to Learn and Create project.
3. Consider some of the visual perceptual, motor, and cognitive constraints of current coding applications, and strategies for addressing these learner needs.
4. Broaden their knowledge of how to provide inclusive coding instruction, both face-to-face and remotely.
5. Understand how to contribute to the co-design of accessible coding resources and/or software
6. Learn about ways to join a network of people interested in accessible coding following ISTE


1. Participants will learn about: (5 minutes)
- the benefits of learning to code and coding to learn for students who have complex learning needs
- the goals and approach of the Coding to Learn and Create project, and how they can participate

2. Interactive activity: (10 - 15 minutes)
Participants will consider the visual/visual perceptual, motor, cognitive, reading and writing constraints of coding applications (e.g. Cubetto, Code and Go Mouse, Cubelets, Sphero, Dash and Dot, Blue Bot) for students who have complex needs. Each participant will reflect on coding applications they have used and the barriers they have experienced and then collectively document their experience using interactive tools.
This activity will be based on knowledge of attendees’ own students where applicable, or based on case scenarios provided.
Links to completed checklists for each app will be shared in the Coding to Learn and Create Open Repository.

3. Demonstration: (20 minutes)
Participants will learn about lesson plans, materials and resources, considerate of the needs of students who have complex needs, that have been developed. They will also see the current iteration of accessible coding software being developed. Video and images from camps and school coding activities will be used to demonstrate the use of these resources by students and educators. Strategies for providing coding instruction in an on-line format will be shared.

4. Interactive activity: (15 minutes)
Participants will see a demonstration of the accessible software interface. Participants will have the opportunity to share design ideas based on the demonstration and their own exploration of the interface, following the presentation.

5. Closing: (5 minutes)
Participants will learn how to stay in touch with the continued development of accessible coding and how they can continue to contribute after ISTE by joining a network of educators through the open education repository.

Supporting research

1. Israel, M., et al. “Empowering K–12 Students With Disabilities to Learn Computational Thinking and Computer Programming.” TEACHING Exceptional Children 48.1 (2015): 45-53.

2. Walmer, J., Ferrari, E., Dautenhahn,K., and Robins, B. The effectiveness of using a robotics class to foster collaboration among groups of children with autism in an exploratory study. Published online: 12 March 2010. Springer-Verlag London Limited 2010

3. Sally Lindsay & Kara Grace Hounsell (2017) Adapting a robotics program to enhance participation and interest in STEM among children with disabilities: a pilot study, Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, 12:7, 694-704, DOI: 10.1080/17483107.2016.1229047

4. Kim D. Adams and Albert M. Cook. Programming and controlling robots using scanning on a speech generating communication device: A case study. Technology and Disability 25 (2013) 275–286.

5. Elizabeth R., Kazakoff, Amanda Sullivan & Marina U. Bers (2013). The Effect of a Classroom-Based Intensive Robotics and Programming Workshop on Sequencing Ability in Early Childhood. Early Childhood Education 41:245–255

6. Matthew Taylor. (2017) Computer Programming with Early Elementary Students with and without Intellectual Disabilities. Doctoral Thesis, College of Education and Human Performance, University of Central Florida.

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Michelle D'Souza, Inclusive Design Research Centre, OCAD U
Leanne Husk, Bridges Canada

Leanne Husk has a background as an educator for students who have complex needs and has certification as a Learning Disabilities Specialist. As a lead instructor for Bridges, she designs and leads workshops and works directly with students and teachers to help them create and implement dynamic and inclusive learning experiences with technology across the curriculum. Leanne first experienced the need for scaffolded instruction and adapted materials when introducing coding to normally developing students. These experiences have been invaluable as she works, in collaboration with OCAD University, supporting Bridges' current initiative - creating inclusive and accessible coding experiences for ALL.

Christy McDonald, Bridges Canada

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